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The Meaning of Treason (1947)

por Rebecca West, William Joyce

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1993104,513 (4)8
In her classic study of WWII, Dame Rebecca West interprets the impulse of treachery and betrayal. From the trials of William Joyce and John Amery, the renowned historian takes the reader from a London devastated by war into the inner world of "sufferings which overtake people who live unnaturally and cut the bonds which bind them to their own country."… (mais)
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Extremely poor. Ms West has her own prejudices and brings them to her writing in plenty. It's always what she imagines the traitors believed and not what they wrote or broadcast themselves. She also has a snobbery about the districts the traitors lived in. So while we might want the words of the traitors we get the snobbish opinions of the author. She doesn't like the traitors probably justified but doesn't tell us why or allow is to see their odious opinions and their reasons for holding them. I'm using the book as kindling. ( )
  wrichard | Jan 17, 2021 |
This extraordinary book, published in 1949, tells the stories of the trials of a number of British subjects who betrayed their country during the Second World War. The bulk of the book is a long chapter on the trial of William Joyce, the Irish-American who spent the war years in Berlin, broadcasting Nazi propaganda as “Lord Haw Haw”.

West is a very good writer, so her account of Joyce and the others is more than just the story of a trial. She grapples with the question of why someone would betray their homeland, their families — though in some cases, especially in the final chapter on what she calls “the children”, she questions the trial itself and the sentence imposed.

The traitors, Joyce first and foremost, come across as human beings. They each have an individual history, often a sad one, and their decisions to sign up to support the Third Reich did not come from nowhere. But that doesn’t justify anything any of them did. They all should have — and probably did — know better.

Found guilty of treason by an English court, William Joyce was hanged on 3 January 1946 at Wandsworth Prison ( )
  ericlee | Jan 30, 2019 |
This book seems to get re-printed about every ten years, and is always described as a “classic”. I had been looking forward to reading it; so was disappointed to find it consisted of the witterings of an egotistic upper class Englishwoman.

The first section – originally published as a separate short book in 1949 - deals with William Joyce, who was executed after the war for broadcasting Nazi propaganda, and, peripherally, with some other pro-Nazi traitors. This is by far the best part of the book. But I gradually became disenchanted with it, when I realised that Joyce was never going to be allowed to speak for himself. He was director of publicity for the British Union of Fascists, so must have written extensively in the fascist press. He certainly gave extensive, though doubtless repetitive speeches. I can’t say that I would enjoy working through such verbiage, but if I set out to author a book on a fascist I think I would feel under obligation. His words ought to reveal some clues about what makes him tick.

West seems strangely obsessed with the fact that Joyce came from South London, rather than the more fashionable north. I thought for a while that she was on the edge of making a significant point about the British class system. While Joyce clearly had some things going for him – he got himself a degree at a time when this was quite an achievement for someone of his lower middle class origins, and was apparently a gifted and popular college teacher – he remained an outsider, slightly looked down upon be even the better class of fascist. The suspicion grew alarmingly, however, that what was on display was West’s own ingrained and unconscious snobbery.

She further omits to quote from any of the broadcasts. In fact she says remarkably little about the one reason why Joyce is of any significance. She does not even make clear whether Joyce actually wrote the scripts or merely read them.

The book is full of purple passages which seem to mean something at first glance but which crumble under examination. An example, slightly compressed, (from where the book just fell open):-

"It must, indeed, have been intoxicating for him to go through London, where he was at best a street corner speaker and know that he would return to it at the right hand of its conquerors. There would then be no building he would not have the right to enter. There would be no man or woman of power he would not see humiliated. The first would be last and the last would be first, and many would be called and few would be chosen. He left the damp and the fog and went out into the perfect autumn of Germany."

A good example of her willingness to put thoughts into Joyce’s head, while being strangely unwilling to quote the actual words from his mouth.

She seems unconcerned about Joyce’s execution – though to be fair, later on, she does find the execution of the Rosenbergs repellent. She expresses surprise that there was some public sympathy for him. The reason would seem to me obvious. Many people listened to the broadcasts. The official line was that they listened for amusement, but I suspect many took them more seriously than they afterwards admitted. It must have occurred to many that if Joyce had committed treason by making the broadcasts then they had committed a tiny treason by listening.

I had planned to denounce the remainder of the book – dealing with various Communist agents in the 1950’s and 60s - in even stronger terms. The Joyce section shows some signs of intellectual curiosity, while the remainder consists of a one-note denunciation of all concerned, by a person who cannot understand the existence of a contrary view.

But perhaps this review is long enough already.
1 vote GeorgeBowling | Feb 24, 2009 |
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Style is the man. The adage need not be changed in gender to include Miss West for she writes with such force as to make most male writers appear effeminate. A rich style therefore demands a well-furnished mind, and this Rebecca West possesses.

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Nome do autorPapelTipo de autorObra?Estado
Rebecca Westautor principaltodas as ediçõescalculated
Joyce, Williamautor principaltodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Marber, RomekDesigner da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
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Wikipédia em inglês (3)

In her classic study of WWII, Dame Rebecca West interprets the impulse of treachery and betrayal. From the trials of William Joyce and John Amery, the renowned historian takes the reader from a London devastated by war into the inner world of "sufferings which overtake people who live unnaturally and cut the bonds which bind them to their own country."

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